A College of Community Innovation and Education student is joining a premier group for future public servants that will offer her invaluable career development and mentorship opportunities.

Public administration doctoral student Kathryn Hickey was recently named a Founders’ Fellow for the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA), the most competitive program ASPA offers for rising professionals in public service. Hickey was one of just 20 members accepted nationwide for the 2024 cohort.

Hickey’s first act as a Founders’ Fellow was attending the ASPA conference earlier this month and presenting her research thus far as a second-year doctoral student in the School of Public Administration. The research Hickey shared at the conference focused on the effects of the pandemic on low-income students.

Part of the fellowship includes being matched with a mentor for the year-long program, who can help guide Hickey through conference presentations, scholarly writing — including her dissertation — and professional networking. The program itself also guarantees Hickey a publication in the PA Times Online, accelerating her career in the field.

Hickey says she’s most looking forward to the mentorship and networking assistance that the fellowship will provide, especially as she will have someone to guide her through conferences and large events that can sometimes be intimidating when starting out.

She was inspired to study public administration through her previous career as a educator, though it was not a straightforward path. Hickey started out as a teacher and then went on to serve in the Peace Corps, working in Fiji. Upon returning, she got her master’s in community psychology but says she struggled to find jobs. She also knew that she wanted to make a bigger impact.

“I went to teaching and did that for a while, and I know this sounds cheesy, but I want to save the world — or at least try to make it a better place,” Hickey says. “At first, I wanted to be a teacher and teach kids to become better people in this world. Then I realized I wanted to work on a more macro level, with laws and policies.”

An area of research she was inspired to pursue from her prior experiences in teaching is studying the effects of anti-LGBTQ laws.

“I’m focusing on marginalized groups and queer youth,” she says. “The youth aspect is really important to me as a former teacher of seven years.”

After graduation, Hickey wants to work for a think tank where she can conduct research that informs new policies or advocacy.

Hickey says she is thankful for the faculty and cohort members who have helped get to this point in her doctoral program.

“Working with the professors at UCF has been really exciting,” Hickey says. “I now have my dissertation chair and committee, and it’s been amazing to see the professors be excited about helping you. The professors truly care, and my cohort has become like a family.”